Following a standoff with the courts, the Catalan regional government on Wednesday told residents to stay home in a virus-hit area in and around the northeastern city of Lerida.
Regional officials issued a similar call in several districts of Hospitalet de Llobregat, a city near Barcelona where virus cases have been on the rise.
In the Lerida area, the stay-home order affects around 160,000 people, who are only allowed to leave to go to work, buy food or medication, or to exercise.
The area has already been cut off from the rest of the country since July 4.
But the regional government is refusing to use the term lockdown given that the measures are not as restrictive as those imposed months ago by the central government at the height of the country’s outbreak.
“People can go for a walk and exercise and all the shops will be open,” Catalan government spokeswoman Meritxell Budo said on Tuesday.
Moves to reconfine the local population to their homes triggered a legal standoff on Monday when a local court blocked the new lockdown order, prompting the regional government to enact legislative changes.
In the end, the court agreed overnight to allow the measure for 15 days while demanding that the regional authorities provide regular updates on the status of the outbreak.
Catalan authorities are also watching other pockets of infection in this wealthy northeastern region, notably advising that the residents of three districts of Hospitalet de Llobregat — a city with 260,000 residents — only leave home for urgent necessities.
Spain suffered one of Europe’s most deadly outbreaks of the virus which has so far claimed more than 28,400 lives.
With the health ministry saying there are more than 120 active outbreaks across the country, many regions such as Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Andalusia have stepped up precautions.
In these areas and others, mask-wearing is now compulsory in public at all times, even if the safety distance can be respected.
Masked protesters set bins on fire and threw rocks and glass bottles at police who responded with foam bullets in a street near Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium as Barcelona and Real Madrid faced off Wednesday in the first Clasico of the season.
Twelve people were injured in the clashes, including four who needed to be taken to a medical centre for extra care, local emergency services said.
The protesters, many of them carrying Catalan separatist flags, began setting up barricades in the middle of the street, which they then set on fire, after police arrived in dozens of police vans, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Demonstrators rocked a police van and took down street signs that they added to the barricades.
Inside the stadium, thousands of fans held up blue banners with the words ‘Spain, sit and talk’ which were given to supporters outside the grounds and also carried the words, ‘Freedom, rights, self-determination’, as well as the slogan of Democratic Tsunami, the protest group promoting the cause of Catalan independence.
Protestors also blocked traffic after gathering at the four corners of the stadium from 1500 GMT, four hours before kick-off. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Barcelona and Real Madrid could not be separated on Wednesday in a Clasico that was briefly interrupted by Catalan independence protests when dozens of yellow beach balls were thrown onto the pitch at Camp Nou.
After being postponed in October, there were renewed fears of unrest around Spain’s most famous fixture.
Protestors held banners, waved flags and even threw inflatable beach balls.
However, although serious disruption inside the ground never materialised, there were clashes outside.
Twelve people were injured when police charged hundreds of masked protesters who set garbage bins on fire, according to emergency services.
The protesters, many of them carrying Catalan separatist flags, began setting up barricades in the middle of the street which they then set on fire after police arrived in dozens of police vans.
The match was less eventful than expected, with neither side ever really at their best and both, perhaps in the end, happier not to win than to lose.
A goalless draw means Barcelona stay top of La Liga, ahead of Real on goal difference while the historic score in league meetings between the two rivals remains 72 victories apiece.
Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos both made clearances off the line in the first half but the best chance arguably fell to Lionel Messi, only for the Argentinian to uncharacteristically scuff his finish.
“More than a Clasico”, read the front page of Barcelona daily Mundo Deportivo on Wednesday morning ahead of a fixture that while always politically charged, had assumed even greater significance than usual.
The game was originally due to be played on October 26 and the 53 days since seemed only to swell expectations around what Democratic Tsunami, the Catalan independence protest group, might do to disturb the most-watched club match in the world.
Yet in truth, there was less than expected.
Only in the 55th minute of the second half was the game paused for a minute as stewards ran on to collect dozens of yellow beach balls that had been thrown onto the pitch.
Bale ‘goal’ ruled out
Blue banners bearing the slogan of Democratic Tsunami: ‘Spain, sit and talk’, were also held up.
Four hours before kick-off, thousands had gathered at all four corners of the stadium to hold the same blue banners and wave Catalan flags, while some blocked traffic too.
Both teams had departed from the same hotel and aside from whistles and insults directed at the Madrid team bus, both arrived without incident. Club president Florentino Perez gave a thumbs-up as he walked in.
Gareth Bale was last to get off, by which time he might have known he was starting for the first time in four matches. Ramos played in his 43rd Clasico, a record for any player in history.
For Barcelona, Sergio Busquets was included in the line-up first announced before he was swapped out for Ivan Rakitic. Barca claimed it had been a communication error.
If it was, it was not the first mistake of the night, with a frantic first half full of them.
Real were the better side in the opening half an hour although Luis Suarez might have scored early had he controlled Jordi Alba’s cross at the back post.
There was a goalline clearance at both ends as Casemiro’s header bounced up and had to be hooked away by Pique before Thibaut Courtois punched out to Messi but his shot was blocked by Ramos.
Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde both tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jordi Alba wanted a penalty for a Dani Carvajal handball but VAR was unmoved. Raphael Varane had a better case at the other end after having his shirt pulled by Alba.
Ten minutes into the second half, stewards ran on to collect the beach balls and shortly after, Barcelona twice should have scored, only for Messi and Suarez both to fluff finishes in quick succession.
Bale grazed the side-netting and the excellent Frenkie de Jong drove at Courtois after a neat one-two.
Bale then did score with 15 minutes left but his provider Ferland Mendy was a fraction offside. Neither team wanted to go for broke in the latter stages.
Around 350,000 people rallied in downtown Barcelona on Saturday, turning the streets into a sea of independence flags in the latest mass protest against Spain’s jailing of nine separatist leaders.
The turnout figure was given by the local police as vast crowds packed into a wide avenue running between the waterfront and the city’s towering Sagrada Familia basilica, which was once again closed to visitors.
Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the October 14 Supreme Court verdict which unleashed a wave of huge demonstrations that quickly turned violent, with angry protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police, who hit back with tear gas, foam rounds and rubber bullets.
The crisis began two years ago when the region staged a banned referendum on October 1 that was marred by police violence, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, trigging Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Saturday’s rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.
Marching down the spacious boulevard, demonstrators held up banners reading “We won’t give in” and chanting “October 1, we won’t forgive, we won’t forget”.
As a police helicopter flew overhead, they broke into loud boos and whistling, an AFP correspondent said.
“I feel really angry,” said a 26-year-old computer technician from Tarragona called Marc, who did not give his surname and described the heavy prison sentences handed to nine separatist leaders as “totally over the top, inhuman, and shameful”.
“The violence doesn’t sit well with me but it’s normal to have a bit of upheaval like we’ve seen in Chile and Ecuador,” he said of a wave of mass protests in Latin America.
“There are different ways of protesting but we have one objective: independence.”
A second demonstration called by the radical CDR will being at 7:30 pm (1730 GMT), raising fears there could be fresh clashes with police.
Counter demonstration on Sunday
Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with a September poll showing 44 percent in favour but 48.3 percent against. The violent protests over the verdict have only deepened that division.
The violence eased off last week although the protests continued, with thousands of flag-waving students marching peacefully through the city on Friday evening.
More than 600 people have been injured so far in the protests, among them 367 civilians, four of whom lost an eye, Catalan health officials say, with government figures showing 289 police were also hurt.
Earlier on Saturday, thousands rallied in Madrid in defence of Spain’s unity at a demonstration called by the far-right Vox party, which has taken a very tough line on Catalan separatism and wants all regional pro-independence parties banned.
Although the faction only entered parliament in April, polls indicate it might become the third-largest party following the November 10 election.
On Sunday, activists from Catalan Civil Society (SCC) will hold a counter demonstration by those who want the region to remain part of Spain and who want the protest violence to end.
“Those who oppose independence are a majority, and that is an important message for Catalonia, for Spain and the world, where often separatism is associated with Catalonia,” SCC head Fernando Sanchez Costa told AFP.
“It’s important to go back out and say: that’s enough violence and confrontation,” he said, warning that the unrest was causing a lot of damage to Catalan society.
Separation ‘not an option’
Until now, the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez has turned a deaf ear to repeated calls for dialogue from regional president Quim Torra, who wants to secure Madrid’s agreement for a referendum on independence.
“What we will not talk about is the right to self-determination,” Carmen Calvo, Sanchez’s deputy, told journalists on Saturday.
“If, as president Torra has said every day, the aim is to break up Spain’s territorial unity and separate Catalonia from Spain, we simply cannot talk,” she said.
“Unilaterally breaking the rules of the game is not an option.”
A Spanish judge has issued a new international warrant for the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution over the failed 2017 independence bid.
The warrant, which calls for his detention on grounds of sedition and misuse of public funds, was issued shortly after the Supreme Court convicted 12 Catalan separatist leaders, nine of whom were handed lengthy prison terms of up to 13 years.
Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday sentenced nine Catalan leaders to prison terms of between nine and 13 years for sedition for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid.
The long-awaited verdicts were less than those demanded by the prosecution which had sought up to 25 years behind bars for former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras on grounds of rebellion.
Spain has been bracing for weeks for the court’s ruling, with tension mounting steadily and police sending reinforcements to Catalonia where separatists have pledged a mass response of civil disobedience.
Former Catalan regional Carles Puigdemont called the sentences an “outrage.”
“100 years in all. An outrage. Now more than ever, by your side and those of your families. It is time to react as never before,” tweeted Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution.
The 12 defendants, most of them members of the former Catalan government, were put on trial in February for their role in the banned October 1, 2017 referendum and the short-lived independence declaration that followed it.
“The Supreme Court condemns Oriel Junqueras to 13 years of prison… on grounds of sedition and the misuse of public funds,” the ruling said, handing 12 years to three other former regional ministers.
Former parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell was handed 11 years and six months in jail, while two influential Catalan civic leaders, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, were sentenced to nine years prison.
Only three of the 12 leaders, who faced lesser charges, escaped jail time and were handed a fine.
Junqueras served as the main defendant after his boss, Puigdemont, fled to Belgium.
The government is hoping the long-awaited ruling will allow it to turn the page on the crisis in the wealthy northeastern region where support for independence has been gaining momentum over the past decade.
But the separatist movement is hoping for just the opposite: that the anticipated guilty verdicts will unite their divided ranks and bring supporters onto the streets.
– Activists gear up to protest –
Activists from the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, have urged followers to rally on the evening of the verdict.
In the coming days, demonstrators will march from five towns towards Barcelona where they will congregate on Friday, when a general strike has been called.
Activists from the radical CDR (Committees for the Defence of the Republic), have also promised “surprises”. On Sunday they briefly occupied the main train station in Barcelona before cutting traffic on a main avenue of the city.
Anti-riot police have been discreetly deployed to Catalonia but the interior ministry has refused to give numbers.
For many, the situation has brought back memories of tensions in the street in the run-up to the October 1, 2017 referendum which was marred by police violence, and ahead of the short-lived independence declaration of October 27.
In recent weeks, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made it clear that his government will not tolerate any violence, warning he will not hesitate to renew a suspension of Catalan autonomy, as happened two years ago.
The situation is worrying the main Catalan business lobby which said although the verdict would have a “significant emotional impact”, it was important the response avoided disrupting “business activity or social cohesion”.
– Sedition not rebellion –
By definition, the most serious charge of rebellion is “rising up in a violent and public manner” to, among other things, “declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory”.
Sedition, however, is “rising up publicly and in turbulent fashion” to “prevent by force or in an illegal way” the law from being applied, or the application of an administrative or legal decision.
The trial comes just weeks before Spain heads to the polls for its fourth election in as many years, putting the Catalan question once more at the centre of the political debate.
Although Sanchez’s government is hoping the trial’s end might give fresh impetus to dialogue, Junqueras’ leftwing ERC party has said it would not be possible without an “amnesty” for “political prisoners and those in exile”.
At least one woman was arrested Tuesday for “rebellion” and “terrorism” in a probe of pro-independence activists in Catalonia who have staged protests such as road blockades, the interior minister said.
“There is one arrest, a woman,” Juan Ignacio Zoido told Spanish television.
“But the operation is still ongoing, and it’s true they are accused of rebellion and terrorism.”
The activist groups called the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), reacted angrily on Twitter, calling for an immediate demonstration.
Spain’s National Court, which deals with major cases including those that are terror-related, is in charge of the probe, said the minister.
The investigation targets the CDR, radical groups of pro-independence activists that formed last autumn before an independence referendum on October 1.
“The CDR started to wage violent acts before and during the (independence) process,” Zoido said.
On the day of the vote, which went ahead despite a court ban, hundreds of activists posted themselves in front of polling stations. Police dislodged them, sometimes violently.
In recent weeks, the groups have protested against the jailing of more pro-independence leaders and the detention of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany. The leaders have been prosecuted for their role in a failed bid to secede from Spain last October.
At the end of March, the protesters blocked major roads in Catalonia and tried to occupy the central government’s representative office, heavily guarded by police, on several occasions. The resulting clashes left dozens injured.
Puigdemont and others have already been charged with rebellion, which carries up to 30 years in jail.
The use of this charge has raised controversy as it implies violence took place, which independence supporters and several judges and lawyers say didn’t happen.
In Germany, a court ruled that Puigdemont would not be extradited to Spain on a rebellion charge.
Zoido maintained there were “detailed reports… showing there were more than 300 violent acts,” in Catalonia, linked or not with the CDR.
Jordi Sanchez, a separatist civic leader in jail over his alleged role in Catalonia’s secession drive, has dropped his bid to lead the region, the Catalan parliamentary speaker said Wednesday.
“Faced with the repeated violation of his fundamental rights… the lawmaker Jordi Sanchez sent me a letter announcing he was renouncing his candidacy,” Roger Torrent said in a televised statement.
This could ease a months-long political blockage in Catalonia, as it means separatist parties will designate a new candidate for the presidency of the region which has been under direct rule from Madrid since October 27 when lawmakers declared independence.
While separatist parties won subsequent regional elections in December, retaining their absolute majority in parliament, they have still not been able to form a government as their two candidates for the presidency proved problematic.
Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont, who was sacked by Madrid after the independence declaration and left for Belgium where he lives in self-exile, was their first candidate to lead the region again. But he eventually dropped his bid.
Puigdemont instead proposed Sanchez, the former head of the influential pro-independence ANC civil society group.
But this too proved problematic as Supreme Court judges refused to release him for a crucial parliamentary session that would officially appoint him president.
In his statement, Torrent said he would start a new round of talks with parties in Catalonia to find a new candidate.
One name that has been raised is Jordi Turull, the former Catalan government spokesman who is also under investigation over the secession drive but is free.
Catalonia’s majority separatist parliament on Thursday denounced Madrid’s “shift towards authoritarianism” and defended ousted leader Carles Puigdemont as it approved its first motion since December elections, amid ongoing talks to form a regional government.
The motion says Puigdemont — currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium — is the “legitimate” candidate for the regional presidency.
It also states that the separatists are “favourable to the constitution of Catalonia as an independent state”, but stops short of validating a failed declaration of independence on October 27.
The short-lived breakaway attempt saw Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sack the region’s government, dissolve its parliament and call snap elections in December, in which separatist parties retained their absolute majority.
Since then, Catalonia has remained without a regional government and under direct rule from Madrid as divided separatist parties cannot agree who to pick as a candidate for the presidency — their favoured contender Puigdemont being in self-exile in Brussels.
Puigdemont, who faces arrest at home over his role in the independence bid, wants to govern Catalonia remotely. But Spain’s Constitutional Court has made his appointment conditional on his physical presence in the regional capital Barcelona.
Some separatist parties are now considering appointing someone else as a presidential candidate and giving Puigdemont a “symbolic” role from Belgium.
According to Spanish media, Thursday’s motion could be interpreted as a bid to pacify Puigdemont.
By recognising him as the “legitimate” candidate, there is hope he will step aside and let another separatist take his place in Catalonia, media say.
One of the possible contenders is Jordi Sanchez, the 53-year-old head of the ANC, a hugely influential pro-independence citizens’ group.
But this too is problematic as he has been in prison for more than four months, charged with sedition over his role in the secession attempt.
On Thursday, opposition lawmakers pleaded with their separatist counterparts to come to an agreement.
“We need a government, a government that takes charge of problems and governs the 7.5 million Catalans,” said Miquel Iceta, the Socialist party’s Catalan leader.
Xavier Domenech of the far-left Catalunya En Comu party said that Sanchez “had every right to be appointed the president of Catalonia but we know that it’s probably not the quickest shortcut to recover self-government.”
A Spanish court on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant valid only in Spain for a former Catalan MP who is in self-imposed exile in Switzerland to avoid jail while she is investigated over her role in the region’s secession drive.
The Supreme Court “ordered the arrest” of Anna Gabriel, who failed to turn up on Wednesday before a judge for questioning, it said in its ruling. The arrest warrant applies only “nationally”, a court spokesman told AFP.
Public prosecutors had asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Gabriel and ask Swiss authorities to extradite her.
Asked earlier on Wednesday if extradition was a possibility, Swiss justice ministry spokesman Folco Galli said: “Switzerland does not grant, like most other states, extradition and any other form of mutual legal assistance for political offences.
“If there is a request, we have to look at it thoroughly, and from what the media say, it seems to be a political offence, so there is no extradition,” he added.
Gabriel, a top member of the far-left separatist CUP party, is the latest separatist to leave the country after deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four former regional ministers went to Belgium shortly after a failed bid to break from Spain.
She had been due to appear before a Supreme Court judge on Wednesday over her role in Catalonia’s failed independence drive, which eventually led Madrid to impose direct rule on the region in October, sack its government and dissolve its parliament.
The CUP held the balance of power in Catalonia’s parliament during that time, as ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s ruling coalition lacked a majority and relied on the smaller party’s 10 seats to pass legislation and advance his independence “roadmap.”
Gabriel, a former university law professor and the party’s most famous member, is popular with CUP supporters for her fiery speeches in parliament in favour of independence.
Puigdemont and several of his former ministers left for Belgium just hours before he and other separatist leaders were charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over their role in Catalonia’s independence drive. Like Gabriel, they face arrest if they return to Spain.
“I won’t go to Madrid. I’m wanted for my political activities and the government press has already declared me guilty,” Gabriel told Swiss daily Le Temps on Tuesday.
Catalonia’s ousted president Carles Puigdemont met Wednesday with the speaker of the region’s parliament in Brussels despite efforts by Spain’s central government to prevent the talks.
Puigdemont had originally been due to meet with Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent and four other members of his sacked government at Catalonia’s trade mission in Brussels.
But they were forced to move the meeting to another nearby location after Spain’s central government ordered Catalonia’s representative in Brussels not to allow it to take place at the mission, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
“The representative of the Catalan government in Brussels has been instructed not to allow this meeting to take place in the building of the Catalan diplomatic mission,” the source told AFP just before the meeting was due.
Puigdemont is set to hold a press conference after the meeting ends at around 1pm (1200 GMT).
The gathering comes just two days after Torrent – who is also pro-independence – proposed Puigdemont as president of Catalonia following a snap election in December in which separatist parties again won an absolute majority.
But Puigdemont, who faces arrest over his independence push if he returns to Spain, has to figure out how he can be officially voted in at a parliamentary session due by the end of the month.
He has said he could be sworn in from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes. He has also said he would rather return to Spain but the central government vowed to order his arrest.
Madrid sacked Puigdemont and his entire government after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence in late October.
Charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, he has been living in Belgium in self-imposed exile since the end of October.
Catalonia’s official representative in Brussels has been under the authority of Madrid since Spain’s central government placed the region under its direct control following the independence bid.
“We reserve the right to study the legal implications of this situation”, a spokesman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, Joan Maria Pique, said in Brussels Wednesday.